Gabriella Lukacs

  • Professor

I am a media anthropologist whose research focuses on Japan and Hungary. I completed my Ph.D. at Duke University in 2005. Since then, I have been a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, where I teach courses on media, labor, and gender.

I take a political-economic approach to my research on analog and digital media, but also derive inspiration from object-oriented ontology and theories of infrastructure to think about materiality beyond its Marxist conceptualization as economic structures that set events in motion. Currently, I am completing a manuscript on authoritarian populism and anti-populist media activism in Hungary. Unlike my first book that explored an analog medium and the second one that examined digital media, this project investigates the interplay between the analog and the digital in the development of authoritarian populism and anti-populist media activism in post-2010 Hungary. Building on my work on gendered patterns of discrimination in analog media production, algorithmic forms of exclusion, and gendered labor in political activism, I will continue pursuing my interests in media, gender, and labor in a fourth book project that analyzes the growing number of single-person households and low fertility society in Japan.

Research Description

My first book, Scripted Affects, Branded Selves: Television, Subjectivity, and Capitalism in 1990s Japan (Duke University Press, 2010), analyzes the development of a new primetime serial called “trendy drama” as the Japanese television industry’s ingenious response to developments in digital media technologies and concomitant market fragmentation. Integrating a political-economic analysis of television production with reception research, the book suggests that the trendy drama marked a shift in the Japanese television industry from offering story-driven entertainment (signification) to producing lifestyle-oriented programming (affect). It argues that by capitalizing on the semantic fluidity of the notion of lifestyle, commercial television networks were capable of uniting viewers into new affective alliances that, in turn, helped them bury anxieties over changing class relations in the wake of the prolonged economic recession.


My second manuscript, Invisibility by Design: Women and Labor in Japan’s Digital Economy (Duke University Press, 2020), tells the stories of the so-called “girly” photographers, net idols, bloggers, online traders, and cell phone novelists who turned to digital media to sculpt meaningful DIY careers in 2000s Japan. By studying the careers of entrepreneurial women who pursued DIY endeavors in the digital economy, this book argues that, more often than not, this economy did not enable women to develop sustainable careers. Rather, it used women’s unpaid labor as the engine of its own development. The life spans of DIY careers in the digital economy were tied to the profitable life cycles of the particular technologies women engaged to build their careers. At the same time, feminized affective labor has remained central to the entrepreneurial projects women were able to pursue in the digital economy, which also did not help empower women in the realm of work.

Introduction is available here:

I also edited a special issue for Positions: Asia Critique titled Youth, Labor, and Politics in East Asia that investigates youth unemployment and underemployment—a prominent effect of the deregulation of national economies during the 1990s and 2000s in the region. As opposed to understanding youth unemployment and underemployment as social anomalies, this volume analyzes these trends as the new faces of labor. The contributors ask what it means for youth to become part of the workforce in a context in which young people are encouraged to think about work as a source of fulfillment, while the employment available to them is increasingly precarious.  

My current book project, From Counterpublics to Commons: Media Activism in Illiberal Hungary, examines how women, LGBTQIA+, and trans activists use media technologies to protest an illiberal regime in Hungary. Since 2010, Hungary’s rightwing populist government has developed an ethno-nationalist and pronatalist program that waives income tax for women who give birth to four or more children, refuses to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women, mobilizes government media to discredit feminist, LGBTQIA+, and trans activists, shuts down gender studies programs, and bans LGBTQIA+ content in schools and children’s media. In this context, women, LGBTQIA+, and trans people join antigovernment activism in large numbers creatively engaging analog and digital media to demand a voice in the political domain and to promote inclusivity. The book examines five sites of media activism to which the labor of women, LGBTQIA+, and trans activists has been crucial even if it remains invisible: counter-billboard campaigns, street art, Internet memes, independent theater, and political vlogging. These case studies document the trajectory of antigovernment activism from producing counterpublics to building new political, cultural, social, and economic commons. They also illustrate how activists harness media to expand practices of political participation and to redefine the meaning of political work.

I also started working on a fourth book project, which examines the growing number of single-person households among young people that currently make up 32 percent of the housing market in Japan. It explores five sites: the academic discourse on the so-called “parasite singles” phenomenon and young people’s responses to it; the housing market that targets young singletons; the role of the advertising industry in parceling out and transforming into a privileged market segment young people who are living on their own; the development of an artificially intelligent home assistant by Gatebox, which features a 3D holographic character marketed as a “virtual wife” to young men who see “real” relationships as “troublesome;” and the development of AI-powered dating apps such as Aill goen that a growing number of companies promote to their unmarried employees encouraging them to find love and thus become happier and more productive workers.



Contemporary Anthropological Theory

Graduate Seminar. In this course, we review current theoretical trends in cultural anthropology. We read texts published within the past decade that represent various thematic and theoretical foci in anthropology including media, environmental, and medical anthropology, political economy, feminism, critical race studies, queer, and disability studies. Although we mainly discuss ethnographies, we also read texts that are not written by anthropologists but are based on ethnographic fieldwork. These texts are important because they enable us to explore what makes an anthropological approach to the production of knowledge different from the ways in which other disciplines produce knowledge about contemporary conditions. Current ethnographies reveal that it is decreasingly justified to locate that difference in anthropology’s unique method of gathering data: ethnographic fieldwork. Many anthropologists complement fieldwork with analyses of textual sources. Similarly, many scholars in literature, linguistics, and media studies rely on fieldwork—interviewing people—as a key source of data. In this course, we will consider whether we could think of ethnographic fieldwork not only as method but also as theory. We ask how the “datalogical turn” affects the ways we think about ethnographic fieldwork. Patricia Clough at al. note that as adaptive algorithmic architectures are learning to collect and analyze information about individuals and social trends with ever-greater efficiency, the observing and self-observing human subject is becoming an obstacle in the way of efficient data collection and analysis. We discuss how growing interest in big data might affect the identity of the discipline and the relationship of anthropology to other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. An important goal of the course is to inspire students to reflect on what makes a dissertation project innovative (and thus fundable). Equally relevant, students are also encouraged to think about how to design research projects that scholars in various disciplines find appealing.  

Technology and Subjectivity

Undergraduate & Graduate Seminar. The goal of this course is to develop new ways to theorize the shifting relationships between humans and technologies. We discuss how the relationship between humans and technology is changing and why this relationship is taking on an intimate character. We ask how this intimacy might be an effect of technology’s promise to enhance our life chances or its promise to optimize our physical and mental health. A focal point of the course is the exploration of how our intimate relationship with technology might be an effect of late post-Fordist work conditions that require us to be constantly plugged into technological assemblages and align our bodily rhythms to the rhythms of machines. After completing a set of readings on the subjectification effects of technologies, we discuss how particular technologies might be conducive to transformations in the conditions of work and to the emergence of new labor subjectivities. We also ask how workers’ resistance to particular forms of work organization drives innovation in technology. 

Gender and the Global

Undergraduate & Graduate Seminar. Gender is a key structuring principle of difference and inequality in society, while globalization is a condition characterized by time-space compression and ever-expanding connections across national boundaries. Globalization emerged out of such (and often violent) practices of contact as capitalism, colonialism, socialism, the Cold War, and neoliberalism. This course explores the intersection of gender and globalization, asking how gender shapes processes of globalization and how the role of gender is shifting as national/cultural regulatory systems are no longer able to maintain control over what is recognized as “normative” in the context of gender roles and gendered practices. This course examines various facets of the interface between gender and globalization in such contexts as cross-border marriages, international adoption, sex and colonialism, gender and state violence, women in socialist welfare states, labor migration, the global sex industry, queer identities, and activism, as well as gender and technology (especially, the intersection of gender inequality and the idea of technologically enabled empowerment). The historical contexts in which we discuss these themes include colonialism, the Cold War Era, post-socialism, and neoliberalism.

Japanese Society

Undergraduate Lecture. This course aims to introduce students to cultural practices and social institutions in postwar and contemporary Japan. It will give students a range of different exposures—using scholarly books, essays, and film—to look at various conditions and aspects of Japanese culture and everyday life: economic high growth, middle class society, recession, social precarity, gender relations, education, consumer culture, and popular culture. We will begin by interrogating the anthropological notion of culture: what is it, how is it expressed, what conditions it, and where are its limits? We will examine discourses on the uniqueness and homogeneity of Japanese culture and ask what compels and shapes these ideas and how they are confirmed or contested in such domains as employment, education, consumer culture, or popular culture. The goal is to familiarize ourselves not only with Japan, but also with the process of engaging in dialogue with members of other cultures. We have the tendency of using our own cultural categories as a standard for what is normal behavior. People in other cultures therefore seem strange, while we seem, by contrast, normal. How can we learn to perceive others in their terms rather than those we impose on them (through stereotypes, for example)? How can we use such intercultural exposure to reflect back on ourselves: to learn how we constitute and contest ideals of normativity? The section topics are organized along two axes. Within the individual sections, studies on the culturally dominant forms of everyday life and behavior are juxtaposed against materials (texts, films, documentaries, film clips) that explore practices of exclusion and forces of resistance. The course is also structured as a series of oppositions between ethnographic works that have represented Japan as culturally homogeneous and those that have challenged this more culturalist stance by exploring antagonism in Japan or by theorizing Japan as part of the global culture and the transnational economy. The special focus of this class is media culture. We will discuss media culture in Japan and examine the reasons for its popularity abroad.


Undergraduate Seminar. This course will encourage students to consider how anthropology might offer new insights to studying Internet-based phenomena and how research on the Internet might inspire anthropologists to rethink such foundational concepts of the discipline as culture, community, and self. Drawing on scholarly essays, journalism, documentaries, and TED lectures, this course will cover three main topics: the development of the Internet, Internet-based work, and influencer culture. In reviewing the development of the Internet, we will also discuss such topics as remix culture, creative commons, copyleft, cyber-surveillance, hacking, the Anonymous movement, data mining, crowdsourcing, and crowdfleecing. We will spend the last month of the semester learning about digital labor and influencer culture. We will ask how the Internet transforms the world of work and fosters possibilities for new forms of employment. More concretely, we will inquire whether the architecture of the Internet is designed in ways that are conducive to cultivating freedom, creativity, and new forms of employment. We will discuss various forms of hacking as key terrains where battles over the regulation of the Internet and struggles over intellectual property rights are waged. We will learn about data mining—a corporate practice that extracts value by transforming into data-commodities the traces we leave behind in cyberspace. By reading about entrepreneurial individuals who strive to develop DIY careers in the digital economy and by considering how the Internet operates as an apparatus that captures unpaid labor, we will explore how digital technologies transform the world of work. To understand the ways in which digital media are conducive to the formation of new communities and the ways in which they enable individuals to improve their status and employability, we will end the semester by discussing influencer culture.

Gender and Labor

Undergraduate Seminar. This course inquires why we find it difficult to abandon deep-seated beliefs that men and women are not equally suited to pursue certain professions. We wonder whether women belong in the army, the cockpits of airplanes and space shuttles, or whether men make good nurses and babysitters. In this course, we will read scholarly texts and watch documentary films to analyze the relationship between gender and work in various social contexts. We will ask how the realm of work operates as a site where gender differences and hierarchies are reinforced. We will examine how our beliefs about gender-appropriate occupational identities are culturally conditioned and how employers perpetuate gender biases in their hiring practices as they prioritize growth and profit over ideals of gender equity. We will read about flight attendants who were able to negotiate less sexist weight standards only in 1991, women in factories who are hired for their nimble fingers, sex workers, hostesses, hosts, and exotic dancers who are expected to perform gender at work.

This class takes a cross-cultural perspective in analyzing the relationship between gender and work. We will ask how neoliberal globalization intersects with local gender divisions of labor in diverse social contexts. We will examine, for instance, how strategies of transnational corporations to bypass labor militancy have facilitated the feminization of a transnational labor force. Equally important, we will pay special attention to the role of digital technologies in transforming the world of work and reshaping formative links between gender and work. Many scholars argue that advances in digital technologies have weakened an organizational model of capital accumulation that is dependent on the concentration of production in offices and factories. We will consider how this shift has occurred and what its repercussions are. We will also ask whether paid labor in the home serves as a source of empowerment or whether it integrates workers into new systems of inequality. Last, we will discuss the role of gender in galvanizing the development and expansion of digital economies.

The Anthropology of Work

Undergraduate Seminar. Scholars have criticized Marxist theories of labor arguing that Karl Marx’s observations—drawn from the industrial working class—no longer help us grasp the new nature of productive activity in the twenty-first century. Others have argued that Marx’s labor theory of value has, in fact, never been more relevant. Today’s culture of producing commodities with ever-shorter lifespans funnels rural populations into factories. Concurrently, expanding income gaps facilitate unprecedented growth in the service sector transforming service providers into what labor scholars describe as “new servants of new masters.” These trends, scholars argue, force more and more people into work conditions that are not unlike the labor conditions Marx theorized. At the same time, it is also true that in recent decades, the forms and conditions of work have undergone significant transformations in response to the rise of the service and finance sectors, the devaluation of manufacturing, and the pervasive downgrading of employment from full-time work to part-time work arrangements. In this course, we trace the changing conditions of work and formation of new labor subjectivities in various contexts such as transnational factories, the service industries, and the information industries. We consider how the strategies of transnational corporations to bypass high production costs, labor militancy, or environmental concerns have facilitated the offshoring of production and the feminization of a transnational labor force. We also discuss how the emerging middle classes in countries, such as China and India, drive labor migration by creating new needs for new services. In the context of Japan and the United States, we examine how particular forms of work—such as affective labor—are coming to occupy privileged positions in the hierarchy of laboring forms in what scholars describe as “affect economies.” In the same contexts, we also discuss how young people—who are increasingly engaged in the production of what they consume—are being incorporated in the labor force without being formally employed or without receiving financial compensation for their time. We conclude the semester by reflecting on the condition of the very labor market students in the class will be entering. We contemplate why employers increasingly rely on free or token-wage labor, including internship programs, volunteering, and crowdsourcing. We discuss what scholars theorize as the end of wage employment and ask what some of the advantages and disadvantages of this development might be.

The Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality

Undergraduate Lecture: This course surveys current trends in the anthropology of gender and sexuality. Across a diversity of cultural settings, we will read and watch documentary films about how gender and sexuality are harnessed for projects of self-determination, economic advancement, or survival, belonging, or exclusion. We will discuss topics such as the role of gender and sexuality in conceptualizing and practicing kinship, reproduction, and marriage; the struggles of sexual minorities (e.g., hijras in India, transgender sex workers in Chicago, BDSM practitioners in San Francisco, and Filipino gay men in the diaspora) to question and reconfigure normative conceptions of gender and sexuality. In covering topics, such as reproduction, marriage, surrogacy, and sex work, we will critically assess the hegemony of the male/female binarism and examine how it serves capitalist growth strategies.

Precarity and Politics

Graduate Seminar. Crisis seems to have become the normalized condition in which we live our lives and make sense of the world around us. Each new iteration of this condition, caused by financial meltdowns, wars, natural disasters, and recently the Covid-19 pandemic, further cement our perception that crisis has become permanent. This perception is further fueled by neoliberal globalization that builds on what Naomi Klein conceptualized as disaster capitalism. Governments that adopt neoliberal economic policies, Klein notes, tend to exploit crises to introduce structural adjustment plans during times when populations are too beaten down to mount an efficient opposition. By doing so, neoliberalism intensifies our sense of crisis as it grinds down our sense of security. Whereas critical scholarship on neoliberalism focus on the role of the economy in generating conditions of precarity, in recent years, scholars also started examining the social lives and cultures of this condition. Furthermore, they began exploring how conditions of precarity give us hope and galvanize our desire to reform our lives, reach out to others, and build new communities. This course will introduce students to theories and ethnographies of precarity, as well as works that analyze transformations in the ways we participate in the political domain to fight locally specific conditions of precarity.



Lukacs, G. (2022) “The Gender of the Meme: Women and Protest Media in Populist Hungary,” Feminist Media Studies, January 10, 1-16.

Lukacs, G. (2021) “Internet Memes as Protest Media in Populist Hungary,” Visual Anthropology Review, 37(1): 52-76.

Lukacs, G. (2020) Invisibility by Design: Women and Labor in Japan's Digital Economy. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Lukacs, G. ed. (2015) Youth, Labor, and Politics in East Asia, Positions: Asia Critique, Volume 23, Issue 3.

Lukacs, G. (2015) “Cool Japan, Soft Power, and Cultural Globalization,” in Towards New Humanities in the Era of Ubiquitous Media, Ishida Hidetaka, Yoshimi Shunya, and Mike Featherstone, eds. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 195-218 (in Japanese). 

Lukacs, G. (2015) “Unraveling Visions: Women’s Photography in Recessionary Japan,” Boundary 2, vol. 42, no. 3, 171-184.

Lukacs, G. (2015) “Labor Games: Youth, Work, and Politics in East Asia,” Positions: Asia Critique, Volume 23, Issue 3, 487-513

Lukacs, G. (2015) “The Labor of Cute: Net Idols, Cute Culture, and the Digital Economy in Contemporary Japan,” Positions: Asia Critique, Volume 23, Issue 3, 381-409.

Lukacs, G. (2013) “Dreamwork: Cell Phone Novelists, Labor, and Politics in Contemporary Japan,” Cultural Anthropology, 28(1):44-64.

Lukacs, G. (2012) “Workplace Dramas and Labor Fantasies in 1990s Japan,” in Global Futures in East Asia, Ann Anagnost, Andrea Arai, and Hai Ren, eds. Stanford University Press, 222-247.

Lukacs, G. (2010) “Iron Chef Around the World: Japanese Food Television, Soft Power, and Cultural Globalization,” International Journal of Cultural Studies Volume 13(4): 409-426.

Lukacs, G. (2010) “Dream Labor in Dream Factory: Japanese Television in the Era of Market Fragmentation,” in Television, Japan, Globalization, Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Eva Tsai, and JungBong Choi, eds. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 173-194.

Lukacs, G. (2010) Scripted Affects, Branded Selves: Television, Subjectivity, and Capitalism in 1990s Japan. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.